Opinion: Youth criminality

POSTED: 01/5/14 10:49 PM

Street robberies are not unique to St. Maarten. The Netherlands has its share of them and in the seat of government, The Hague, the police notes now that the robbers are getting younger and younger. Most street robbers have not even reached the age of 15 and they go after senior citizens, their peers and other easy victims for wallets, phones and handbags. Sometimes they use verbal of physical violence. In St. Maarten, more often than not, they use a gun they conveniently found in the bushes.

The Hague was busy with young street robbers quite a bit last year. Officers arrested about one hundred of them and 80 percent turned out to be 14 or 15 years of age. Court records in Philipsburg do not show such young robbers, but that does not mean these things do not occur here. If the prosecutor’s office decides to punish those youngsters out of court, their behavior never goes on public display.

So what is happening there in The Hague? According to police officers these kids consider a street robbery as an easy crime, something they could do without giving it second thought. Peer pressure fuels these robberies, the police says. It is a matter of macho behavior. Some kids rob for the sake of robbing. It happens that kids steal a cell phone from someone and that they throw the thing away when they are done.

The problems with young street robbers are not new. The police in The Hague picked up on the trend in 2012 and charged several officers with the task to tackle the situation. The results are rather puzzling, at least to us: youth criminality in The Hague went down by 19 percent – a nice number, for sure – but the street robbers became younger and younger.

Data from elsewhere in the country are hard to come by. In some districts the average age of the robbers is around twenty. There are youngers ones as well but, as one district spokesman said, it is not so that we arrest a 13-year old every week.

Henk Ferwerda is a criminologist at the Beke Research Bureau. He has been researching street robberies and youth gangs for years. Even Ferwerda is astonished by the situation in The Hague/ This is what the researchers has to say about this type of crime. “A street robbery is a serious crime with a high threshold. Normally this is not a crime people start out with, because you must really have the guts to do it. You are seen, you have contact with your victim and there is often verbal and physical violence.

Ferwerda considers the situation in The Hague as a-typical. “I did not do research into this on a national level. Earlier research indicates that street robbers are in general much older. They think through what they are doing and they absolutely do not do this for the kick. It is about the loot and about selling what they rob. They want to benefit from the robbery.”

Yep, that is recognizable for St. Maarten too – the young (but not that young) robbers who want a fistful of dollars to satisfy their immediate needs or desires.

What happens in The Hague is worrisome, the same way it is worrisome how street robbers in St. Maarten operate – with little to no respect for their victims and more often than not with the use of firearms.

Ferwerda shares that concern. “It is especially the ease with which these youngsters commit such serious crimes,” he says. “They have no idea what such a robbery means for an elderly woman. She will not dare to go on the streets for weeks after something like that has happened. They also do not realize how serious the crime is and what kind of punishment they should expect if they get caught.

Here is the lesson for St. Maarten: persistent and focused policies against youth criminality have proven to be successful in the past.

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